Happy Bithday, Levi!

It has been a whirlwind of a year, but Levi finally turned 1!  Oh wow.  *deep breath*  We made it!!  If you haven’t read about our first few months with Levi, you can read about our roller coaster ride here.

Anyway, Levi has been such a joy in my life and I am so grateful that he has been given as such a precious gift to us!  I cannot imagine my life without him.  So, I planned to throw a party that showed just how much I love him and wanted to invite as many people as possible to share in our joy!

Picking a Theme

Here is the basic idea of the invitation we did without any of the details.

Like most families, we are on a budget.  I just happen to have an amazingly talented graphic designer for a husband, so I get a lot of things that would normally be pricy for dirt cheap.  Customized items like invitations, game cards, signs/posters…etc all for pennies.  So, I must first say that I am so overwhelmingly thankful to have a husband who is willing to come home from his 40+ hour/week job and spend even more time creating masterpieces for me.  He is also very patient with my picky behavior.  I knew exactly what I wanted and would not settle for anything less.

Here is the trivia game that Josh designed for the party. It turned out great. The prizes were homemade mustache mugs made from a kit.

So, with that cost out of the way, I was able to take inventory of what I have.  One way that I like to do this is keep a Rubbermaid container of my party and craft supplies.  I threw a shower back in February for my dear friend, Jen.  I had some leftover mustaches that I used for an activity during her shower that I purchased from TheSweetPaperie on Etsy.  I thought they were just the cutest things so I decided that they would work well for a starting point for me.

Now I knew I wanted mustaches and just had to figure out what else to go with it.  I sifted through some pictures of mustache parties on Pinterest and found mostly weddings or other silly adult parties.  I did find, however, some fun colors that I knew I would want to use.  So, I started a PinBoard to help some friends and I organize an inspiration board.  I love places like Farrel’s and Main Street in Disneyland and PRESTO!  I had a theme!  I decided we would celebrate our “Little Man” (mustaches) and have an Olde Time Soda shop feel to our party.

Party Details

When I throw a party, I prefer to go all out.  I knew that I wanted a bash and would invite everyone and anyone who would want to come and celebrate with us.  This gets expensive, though.  So, being on a budget, I had some details to work out.

Outside of picking a date, the first thing to think of is the time of your party.  There is a tiny little sweet spot in the afternoon where you can host a party without having to provide food.  This little sweet spot is from 2-4.  Unfortunately for us, that is smack dab in the middle of Levi’s nap time.  So, we knew that wasn’t going to work for us.  We were either going to have to choose a lunch party or a dinner time party.  Lunch is too close to nap time and it also creates a really hectic morning of set up.  So we chose to do a late afternoon dinner from 3:00-6:00.

Now, planning a meal for 50+ people can be really expensive.  Especially when you think about doing the meat.  We thought about burgers and hot dogs, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted a hot grill running when we had kids running all over the place.  I also wanted the hubster to be able to enjoy the party…not stand in front of a grill all afternoon.  So, were a little nervous about what we would serve. We lucked out, though.  Back around Easter our local grocery store had pork shoulder roasts on sale for $.50/lb.  That’s right!  I was able to buy 10 lbs of meat for just $5!  (ps–I took advantage of this deal and bought 20 lbs and saved the other half for my 4th of July party this summer!)

Instead of freezing the shoulder roast and having to take it out a week ahead of time to thaw and cook…etc, I cooked it right away.   I made shredded pork for sandwiches.  That’s right.  I got out 3 crock pots and cooked 20 lbs of port in a couple days.  I put it all in zip lock bags and tossed ’em into the freezer to be taken out before the party!  This idea was probably the best thing I thought of doing.  Not only was it a great deal on food, but it saved me so much time the week of and day of the party.  I had zero cooking that I needed to do.  I simply tossed the meat back into a crock pot on low until it thawed out and then put it on warm throughout the party.  We had almost none left!  So, it must have tasted good.

Now, people can’t eat just pork sandwiches for dinner.  There are all kinds of sides to bring.  So, when a friend asked me what she could get for Levi’s birthday I said, “Actually, he really doesn’t need anything.  We could use a veggie tray or something, though, instead of a gift!’  And you know what??  She was more than happy to do that instead!  So, I asked a few people if they’d be willing to bring one of their famous sides!  Someone brought the buns, someone else brought the fruit…etc.  It worked out great!

Here are the cupcakes & strawberries I made. They ended up looking just adorable. I made the stache toppers by glueing the mustache cut outs I told you about to 1/2 of a bamboo skewer. Super simple!

So, so far I spent $5 on food (tehehe).  Then there are desserts.  I decided on cupcakes because it helps to prevent the use of more paper plates and forks..etc during a party.  It’s also way easier than cutting a cake out for that many people.  Now, I wanted to make the desserts in our theme colors.  Luckily, I used electric blue food coloring in Emery’s party last November.  So, I used it again in our buttercream for this party  (I made the buttercream frosting on Wednesday evening before the party –buttercream with no milk lasts a while.  So I skip out on the milk that is called for in the recipe I posted if I’m going to make it several days in advance).  I made the cupcakes (1 batch chocolate, 1 batch yellow, and 1 batch Gluten-Free chocolate) the day before the party.  When a friend asked what she could do that week to help, I handed her a box of cake mix and some cupcake liners and asked, “Do you mind making some cupcakes?  I can frost them, but it would be so helpful to have one less box to make!”  She was more than happy to do that.  I knew this was right up her alley too!  So, on Friday afternoon I frosted the cupcakes and put them in a box in the fridge.  I didn’t top them with their toppers or cherry candies until the hour or so before the party on Saturday.  I threw in some chocolate covered strawberries because they were on sale! 🙂

I think I spent a total of $20 for the food for the party including cake mixes, butter, powdered sugar…etc.  The bulk of my budget, though, went into the candy display.  I probably spent an additional $20 on candy.  I wanted to find some nostalgic candy to go into these jars.  I found Clark bars, Necco Wafers, tootsie rolls, hard candy sticks, suckers, licorice, and, of course–the candy probably held most responsible for cavities back in the day–Taffy!  I found most of my candy in random places like grocery stores, a little shop called Mast General Store in Greenville, SC (while on Vacation…), and used leftover candy from other parties that we have had.  You may recognize the big lollipops from Emery’s party back in November.  In order to avoid buying every single candy in sight, I set out some criteria.  It either had to A-Be in our theme colors or B-Be nostalgic.  That really limited the candy that was available and kept me from over-indulging :).  I placed all of the candy in Mason jars and apothecary jars and put them on our bookshelves.  I placed wrapping paper (from the Dollar Tree) behind the bookshelves to give it a more festive look.  The paper is still on the roll too!  So, I was able to just roll it back up to be used another day!

In the end, it was a beautiful day celebrating our little man.  The weather was perfect and everyone had a great time playing outside!  This is probably the last time I will do such a large birthday party for a long time, but I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to do it!

Thanks for reading!

Kristin

I dipped the strawberries in melting chocolate that I had on hand. I then used a toothpick to draw out the little mustaches on each. It was much easier than it looks…just very tedious.
We kept the favors, photo opp props, game cards, and paper bags (so people could take candy home 😉 ) on one table. Keeping everything together helped people to get all of these things done at one simple little stop.

I framed the dessert display with some tissue paper pom poms! They are fun, colorful, inexpensive and easy to make. I covered the table with a gray bed sheet that I had on hand.
Here is Levi’s Smash Cake. This was a gift from my dear friend Trish with Cicco Creations (CiccoCreations.com)
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Emery’s Curious George Birthday Party

Several months ago my husband and I were trying to plan our son’s 3rd birthday party.  We bounced around for themes from Disney’s Jake and the Neverland Pirates, to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.  We even tossed around the idea of just having the color red as his theme.  Emery didn’t really have a preference towards anything, and neither did Josh we.  Finally, we landed on a Curious George theme!

Now, I didn’t want just any old Curious George theme.  I really wanted something more classic, vintage, memorable.  I figured we’d better start searching for some great inspiration.  After visiting countless blogs and websites with all kinds of party themes, here were our results!  I apologize ahead of time for not getting more shots…especially some broad ones.  I also didn’t get a shot of the party favors.  I will describe that I did get, though.

"Curious Emery"As I said, I really didn’t want the newer, cartoony version of Curious George.  I wanted something classic.  So, my husband started off with a photo of our little guy and made him more “curious.”  He then scanned the image onto his programs to add in the colors…etc.

This is the final product for the front of the invitation.  We looked at several Curious George books to get the best coloring and shading as possible.  The font couldn’t make me more proud.  I am thrilled with how these turned out.

Here is the back of Emery’s invitation.  We decided to go with the Curious George yellow, and added all the party details.  Again, I am so happy with how this turned out.

All of the food you see was made by me.

  • The cake pops are, of course, inspired by my favorite dessert blogger, Bakerella.  We used red candy coating and chocolate cake in the centers of each pop.  I got my candy melts from a local cake supply store, but I know you can get them at most craft and hobby stores.
  • I also made banana cream pudding cups.  They were layered with vanilla wafer cookies, banana cream pudding, and whipping cream.  I added a slice of banana and some crushed up wafers on top.  They were so good!
  • The mini cupcakes were simply chocolate or yellow cake with colored frosting whirled on.
  • I purchased the large swirl pops from Oriental Trading.  You can find all kinds of great supplies through their website.  We also purchased little white treat boxes for the kids party favors.  To dress them up, we designed labels in line with our theme and put them on the boxes.  We then tied a balloon on each box handle for the kids.  They were a lot of fun and the parents even enjoyed them
  • The water bottle labels were blank water bottle labels  purchased online.  My husband designed the label to work with our theme.  They turned out great!  Everyone loved the great touch they brought to the party.
  • We also served summer sausage, cheese, crackers, vegetables and dip, fruit, chips and salsa and other fun snacks.
  • I am so sad that our drinks weren’t pictured.  Oh well.  I will tell you about them anyway.  We used pint-sized mason jars with lemonade to drink.  We purchased red, blue, and yellow paper straws  from an Etsy shop.  Again, this was a touch that EVERYONE raved about.  We will definitely be using this shop again in the future.  In fact, I will be purchasing some for another party next month.  By the way, when she says she ships quickly, she does!  I received my straws neatly wrapped in a small flat rate shipping box within a couple of days.  I had placed a custom order.  She was very quick to respond and have my product to me.  She even added a sweet little Curious George tag to my package wishing me well with this party.  I highly recommend this shop owner!

If you have any questions about the party, please don’t hesitate to ask.  I know my husband would be happy to do other custom artwork if you’re looking for invitations for a party for you or a child you love!  Of course, he’s done more than just this Curious George invite, but I’ll post more of his wonderful designs another time!

Fun Times making Fun Cakes

This last Saturday we had a great time celebrating Easter as well as my niece’s 2nd birthday!  I cannot believe she’s already 2!  We had so much fun eating delicious food and hunting for Easter eggs.  Of course, there was plenty of preparation making fun desserts for her birthday!  Here are some of the pictures as well as instructions of how to do it!

The first cake was a flower box cake.  I thought it would be a fun way to integrate her birthday as well as Easter with a fun spring flair!  There are so many variations that you could make with this.  I thought about making a layered trifle, or doing a dirt cake, but this recipe was so fun and easier to transport up to the high desert! 

The original recipe called for a 13×9 cake, but I decided it would be easier to just do the cake in a loaf pan.  I made a chocolate cake, covered cut off the top to make it flat, frosted it in chocolate frosting, topped it with crumbled up cake (what I cut off the top), and then used the Pepperidge Farm Pirouette Rolled Wafers along the sides.  The Pirouettes needed to be cut in half with a bread knife.  The flowers and butterflies were cake pops.  You could do any kind of treat, though.  You could do cookies, cakes, or even just make little paper ones.  You could make flowers and bees, butterflies, dragonflies…anything you’d like!

The next thing we made were Cupcake Bites and Cake Balls.  We took this idea from Bakerella’s Cake Pop book.  Both recipes start off with a basic boxed cake mix made as directed.  Let the cake cool, then crumble it up into a large bowl.  The smaller the crumbles, the better.  Then mix in a tub of frosting.  Using 3/4 of the tub makes them easier to shape…the whole tub makes them that much more moist.  Let the mixture cool in the fridge for a little bit while you clean up the mess.  This will make them easier to shape.  I then took a medium scoops of the cake mixture and rolled them into balls.  Placing them on a tray with parchment paper or wax paper will help to move them to the freezer for about 15 minutes to get extra cold. 

We then melted some melting chocolate and candy coating to cover the balls we had made.  You just drop the balls in one at a time and pull them carefully.  Be sure to allow the excess chocolate to drip off into the bowl of chocolate.  Then place them, again, on a sheet of wax paper or parchment paper to harden. 

If you want to make them into cupcake bites, then you can take a really tiny cookie cutter shaped like a flower to create the paper-liner look.  Let the excess cake mound on top to form the top of the cupcake.  After shaping all of the balls into the cupcake look, throw them back in the freezer for another 15 minutes to cool back down.  Then dip the bottom into the dark chocolate and let it harden.  Then dip the top with whatever color you want and decorate with sprinkles and a red M&M right away before the coating hardens.  You can store these in the refrigerator for several days!  They stay hard in room temperature. 

They were a total hit!  Everyone loved them and enjoyed being able to eat bite-sized pieces of cake. 

Enjoy!

"Oreo Stuffed Chocolate-Chip Cookies"

On Valentine’s Day my husband, Josh, came home raving about some cookies that his co-worker made.  He said he was going to bring one home for me to try, but they were all gone.  He told me that it was an Oreo inside of a chocolate chip cookie…so I decided I’d do a little search.  I got this recipe from another blogger at “Picky Palate.”  I’ve tried it a couple times…and it’s pretty darn good!  So, here’s the recipe, my findings, photos, and comments! 🙂  The full ingredients list and recipe is at the bottom of the page.

Before you get started you’ll need to preheat your oven to 350.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.  I’m not completely sure why because they’re not sticky, but it did make the cleanup even easier…and then you don’t have to grease your baking sheet.  I use the Large Bar Pan by the Pampered Chef.  I rarely use anything other than stoneware.  It allows for more even cooking, prevents burning on the bottom of your cookies, and is easy to clean up.

 Mix your flour, salt, and baking soda together in a small bowl and set aside.  I used the Small Batter Bowl by the Pampered Chef.  It holds 4 cups plus a little wiggle room.  I also like that it has a handle.  That way I can mix and pour without losing my grip!

 Cream together your butter and two sugars.  Use an electric mixer.  I put all of mine in the Large Batter Bowl (also by the Pampered Chef).  Again, I really like that it has a handle so I can use my mixer and hold my bowl steady.

After giving it a good mix I like to scrape down the sides and mix it up a little more.  Using any rubber scraper is great, but I really like my Mix ‘n Scraper.  It is super durable and doesn’t soak in the colors and scents of what I’m making.  It also works well as a scoop so I can actually move stuff around in there.

Add in your two eggs and a full tablespoon of vanilla extract and mix it all up again.  Make sure it’s mixed really really well.  It might look a little gritty or funny after you’ve mixed it.


Slowly add in the dry ingredients that you mixed together earlier.  I like to add them in thirds and them mix it up.

The batter will be really stiff and thick…thicker than the usual cookie recipe, I found.  (My favorite is the Nestle Tollhouse Recipe, by the way…so good)  I think it’s important to stick to this particular recipe so you get the right consistency for some of the next steps.  I also found that it took me some time to get this all mixed well.  I had to scrape down the sides a lot to make sure the flour mixture was well incorporated.  This may be easier if you have one of those really nice big kitchen mixers.

Add in your whole bag of chocolate chips.  I had to use one of my Bamboo Spoons to mix them in.  Like I said, the batter is pretty stiff.  I like the Bamboo Spoons better than the average wooden spoon because they don’t splinter or soak in any scents or colors.  This is great news for people with Celiac Disease or other gluten intolerance.  The Bamboo won’t soak those in so you won’t need multiples to avoid cross-contamination.

Take out those Oreos (or off-brand like I did…) and have your cookie sheet ready. 


 Take a cookie-scoop full of cookie dough and place it on the top of one Oreo.  I used the Medium Scoop (Pampered Chef).  It works great and is the perfect size for these, or any other cookie.  This is what it will look like.


Take another scoop and put it on the bottom of the cookie… like a sandwich.  This is what it will look like:


Surround the cookie with the dough.  I found that this was easiest if I cupped it in my hands and gently pushed down on the top and on the sides…Like rolling it without actually rolling it…if that makes any sense :).  I’ve found that this is why this particular cookie recipe is important.  It is less sticky than others.  This is also one of the reasons it is important to use butter and NOT substitute margarine.

Place the finished cookie on the lined cookie sheet.  The cookie will be pretty big…it’s like 3 cookies in 1…literally.  So you can see the comparison of this one cookie to a single Oreo.

Repeat that step until your cookie sheet is filled.  I was able to fit 12 on one sheet.

Place the cookies in the preheated oven for 9-13 minutes.  It took mine the full 13 minutes…and wouldn’t have burned with even two more minutes.   I like setting a timer so I can clean or prepare my other cookie sheet without having to watch the clock.

This is about what they’ll look like when they’re finished.  They don’t look done, but they are.  You’ll have to give them a good touch to make sure they’re not gooey still.  I also know that my stones stay hot for quite a while, so the bottoms will still bake a little when they first leave the oven.

Place the sheet on a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes.  I find that it’s better if you let it cool on your sheet for longer than that so they don’t goo apart.  I found 10-15 minutes to be sufficient, but it wouldn’t hurt to leave them on there even longer.  Just test it before you remove them.

 Remove the cookies from the cookie sheet directly onto the cooling rack to finish cooling completely.  I like placing mine on the Stackable Cooling Racks (Pampered Chef).  They’re raised pretty high off the counter/table and allow for the cookies to cool all the way around.  Traditional cooling racks sit really low to the counter and air can’t really circulate well underneath.  So it takes longer for them to cool.  You can also stack 3 on top of one another if you have limited flat-surfaces like I do.  It makes it a lot easier to bake lots of cookies at a time.

Allow the cookies to cool completely (or mostly if you just can’t wait).  Enjoy them with a tall glass of milk!

YUM!  I like to call it the “pregnant cookie” because there’s a nice little surprise inside… 🙂

If you have a 2-year old, this is the mess you’ll have to clean up after cleaning the kitchen! 🙂

Ingredients:

  • 2 Sticks of Butter Softened (This is important.  Margarine will totally mess you up in a lot of ways–please use butter.  I let mine soften over night on the counter.)
  • 3/4 Cup Packed Brown Sugar
  • 1 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Large Eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract or Pure Vanilla
  • 3 1/2 Cups Flour
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1 10 oz bag of Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
  • 1 Package of Double Stuff Oreo Cookies (I used the off brand because it was less expensive 🙂 ).

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Mix all the dry ingredients in a small bowl and set aside (flour, salt, baking soda).
  3. Mix butter and both sugars in a bowl and blend with an electric mixer.  Add eggs and vanilla–mix well.  Slowly add in the dry ingredients and mix well.  Toss in all the chocolate chips and mix well again.
  4. Take one cookie scoop-full of cookie dough and place it on top of one Oreo.  Take another scoop of cookie dough and place on the bottom of the Oreo (see picture), and surround the Oreo with the two scoops of dough.
  5. Place the (very large) cookie on your cookie sheet.  Repeat until your sheet is full!
  6. Bake at 350 for 9-13 minutes.  I found it took the whole 13 minutes.
  7. Cool on a cookie rack for at least 5 minutes…but the longer the better.  If you can wait a good 15 minutes that would be easier!

The recipe says it makes 2 dozen cookies, but I found that it really makes about 18 cookies.  There are enough Oreos in a package, though, to make 2 batches if necessary.  Just imagine the possibilities!  Make it your own!  Maybe use those amazing Thin Mint cookies that the Girl Scouts put out…or some peanut butter…or any other cookie/treat you like…Maybe a little Reese’s cup!  Share any adjustments you make with me!

(adapted from the recipe found at this site: http://picky-palate.com/2011/01/06/oreo-stuffed-chocolate-chip-cookies/)